Despite the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the start of the 2020 USL League One season, Orlando City B will officially kick off the year against South Georgia Tormenta FC on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
For first-year head coach Marcelo Neveleff, Saturday’s matchup has been a long time coming.
“We’ve been training now for several weeks, working as a team, and it’s gratifying that we’re finally able to start the season this weekend,” Neveleff told the Orlando Soccer Journal recently.
“Just imagine, this team started training on January 15 and almost six and a half months later, we’re finally playing our first game. We’re anxious but happy at the same time.”
Orlando was scheduled to begin the 2020 League One season on April 4 against defending champions, North Texas SC, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted the start of the third-division season.
OCB along with the rest of the League One teams returned to training on May 11.
The main hurdle for Orlando City B will be overcoming last year’s challenges.
The USL Lions finished at the bottom of last year’s League One standings with a 4-20-4 record, which saw the firing of Fernando de Argila midway through last season.
For Neveleff, who’s also the Academy director, the challenge for OCB falls on developing players while at the same time deploying a competitive team.
“We’re trying to seek a balance,” said Neveleff. “We have players from the academy, players from other professional clubs as well as players who we brought in who we hope can potentially play in the first team — there Oscar Pareja’s coaching staff can give them a look and then we’ll give the proper reccomendation for promotion.”
The OCB roster is a mixup of young academy players with professional players, which Neveleff said will create a competitive environment.
“We hope to find the balance because our objective is to promote players to the first team and of course part of developing is to win,” said Neveleff. “With the players that we have we’ll compete to win and learn how to lead on the pitch. The most important thing everyone needs to know is that the academy is the future of club and there are great players out there.”
Marcelo Neveleff’s coaching staff includes assistant Jose Silva along with academy coaches Javier Carrillo and Roberto Sibaja — both as secondary assistant coaches. Longtime Orlando City stalwart, Marcos Machado, is the goalkeeper coach.
Machado was the Orlando City goalkeeper coach from 2010 to 2015 and the Orlando Pride’s first goalkeeper coach in 2016.
The OCB roster that was announced before the season postponement remains the same, according to Neveleff.
Academy graduate Raul Aguilar along with MLS SuperDraft picks Austin Aviza and Nick O’Callaghan headline the Orlando City B roster.
Michael Halliday, who initially signed to Orlando City B prior to the season, signed a homegrown contract with the MLS first team last month.
Defenders Juan Ramos and Mason Lamb, both who were named to the OCB roster, decided to take the collegiate route, signing with the University of Central Florida and Rollins College, respectively.
According to OCB, All three (Halliday, Ramos and Lamb, will remain training with the second team for the time being.
Fans at home games?
OCB kick off their season at home on Aug. 14 against Fort Lauderdale CF at Osceola Heritage Park.
It’s still unclear whether fans will be allowed to attend OCB home matches in Kissimmee, with Neveleff saying there’s still ongoing discussions between club staff and Osceola County and local officials.
“We would like to play in front of fans, but looking at the current situation, I don’t know,” said Neveleff. “It’s a decision that will likely come from the county and club… but it’s our desire to play games in front of fans, but we have to understand the risk and precaution we have to take.”
Midfielder Ignacio Poplawski, who’s on loan from Estudiantes de la Plata, will not feature for OCB this weekend. The midfielder suffered a tear in his meniscus during training and could see him out for three to four months — essentially the entirey of the season.
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